Sunday 26 February 2017

CENTENARY ARTICLE: Frank Bellamy and Montgomery of Alamein

In May this year Frank Bellamy will have been 100 but or his early death So in honour of Kettering's most famous son I want to try to publish some longer articles with a few more pictures than usual. 

Eagle 21 April 1962 Vol.13:16 p.1
If you asked me what is my favourite Bellamy strip I would struggle and say things like "I can't decide" but then I would suddenly declare "Montgomery of Alamein" from the Eagle comic. Why? It's so...Bellamy! It has stippling, 'Bellamy swirls', it has the figures breaking out of panels, it's a composition across a double page - hard to reprint in a book - and his brilliant use of colour. It uses graphic devices to tell the story, it uses maps and finally it's just beautiful.

The first of appearance of Bellamy's 'Montgomery'
I was five when the above appeared* and no doubt had a copy in our house (thanks to older brothers!) but I would have headed to Reg Parlett's "Fidosaurus" at that point in my life! "Dan Dare" was a vestige of his greatness, only having a panel on the front cover in colour - although Keith Watson's black and white two pages were certainly not to be sneezed at!

Dan Dare drawn by Keith Watson in Eagle Vol. 13:10 (10 March 1962)

Fidosaurus by Reg Parlett in Eagle Vol. 13:10 (10 March 1962)

But back to Bellamy...

The first episode of Montgomery of Alamein written by
Clifford Makins Eagle Vol. 13:10 (10 March 1962)

Look at the panel below. Bellamy seems to have loved doing crowd scenes. He could have emphasised one man in close up and blurred, or intimated a crowd beyond through the use of perspective colouring. He knew what he was doing so why the detail? I think it was pride in his work. I have never claimed to be able to handle Photoshop but I wanted to have a go at showing how Bellamy's panels could be wild in shape when looked at alone!

One panel by Frank Bellamy from
"Montgomery of Alamein" Eagle 19 May 1962
That's too cluttered for you? Well try the simple composition at the top of this article which is full of action, the colour alone being stunning. Bellamy uses perspective colouring to indicate depth. The colours in the foreground more distinct, as if he has photographed this and focused on the aircraft and blurred the background out. And do I have to mention the explosion? Bellamy must have loved doing those as they appear in many of his strips.

Here's another whole double page (of 18 episodes) for your delight.
Eagle 4 April 1962 Vol.13:15 p10-11
There was no clue on the cover that Bellamy was pulling out all the stops in the Eagle that week as his work didn't appear on the cover. Let's look at this piece of artwork which could be purchased for just 5d (5 pence so small it's not worth comparing to today, but a normal postage stamp cost 4d -"First class and second class services were introduced in September 1968 at 5d and 4d respectively")*

Eagle 4 April 1962 Vol.13:15 p10-11

Eagle 4 April 1962 Vol.13:15 p10-11
The dark colours used for the soldier and the clock are blown apart by the explosive artillery in the next panel that stretches across the battlefield of Alamein. take a close look at the stippling on the face!

Eagle 4 April 1962 Vol.13:15 p10-11
Here we see Bellamy's use of  a sepia colour to portray the sandy desert environment with all the British pointing inwards in the panel towards the Germans adding force to the 2 dimensional space. 

Eagle 4 April 1962 Vol.13:15 p10-11

Eagle 4 April 1962 Vol.13:15 p10-11
The above portraits remind us that in 1962 communication satellites were about to be launched in space for the first time, (and the Internet was a far away thing!) and Bellamy will have had to consult many sources to check out details. I imagine his research in the Imperial War Museum for the earlier series on Churchill will have helped.he also shows very good protraits of other leaders in the warfare including Hitler!

My other favourite part of this strip is the visualisation of troop movements and battles. I often wondered if the title sequence from the British comedy series Dad's Army was inspired by Bellamy's drawings.

Eagle 19 May 1962 Vol. 13:20 p10-11detail
Eagle 26 May 1962 Vol.13:21 p10-11detail

Bellamy appeared in a lost BBC programme called Edition where he was interviewed by Barry Askew (broadcast on Friday 30th November 1973):
BA: With something again for the Eagle, like "Montgomery of Alamein", there’s an interesting example there of the way that you use frames and shapes in different ways.
FB: Well, there once again is breaking up this square frame, one on top of another and to bring out important frames. For instance, the one in the centre there, was just to give a monochrome look to associate with the monochrome films of the Second World War. 

Montgomery of Alamein, written by Clifford Makins, ran in the Eagle comic from Vol. 13:10 - 13:27 (10 March 1962 -7 July 1962). The following covers had Bellamy content (usually a third of quarter of the cover) during the run of this story:
Vol. 13:12 (24 March 1962)
Vol. 13:13 (31 March 1962)
Vol. 13:14 (7 April 1962)
Vol. 13:16 (21 April 1962)
Vol. 13:18 (5 May 1962) half cover
Vol. 13:19 (12 May 1962)
Vol. 13:22 (2 June 1962)

Montage of the Eagle covers with Bellamy's "Montgomery of Alamein"

The whole story has been reprinted in High command: the Stories of Sir Winston Churchill and General Montgomery [Netherlands]: Dragon's Dream, 1981 and  as a fan effort by Desmond Shaw (2010). Here's what Norman Wright and David Ashford (the former I met many years ago in a Comic fair, and the latter I met just recently!) said about this series:

Frank Bellamy’s first full-colour centre-spread for Eagle was Montgomery of Alamein, an eighteen episode biography which began in March, 1962. As with “The Happy Warrior”, it required a great deal of research and a degree of co-operation from Montgomery himself. Unlike the Churchill strip, Frank began it with confidence and a determination to make it something outstanding. Once again he experimented with colour, conveying the feel of individual frames with carefully-chosen tints and tones. He became even bolder in the way he broke up his pages, using shaped panels to depict movement, wide panoramic frames to portray battles and jagged-edged illustrations to draw reader’s attention to important events. If anything the work was an even greater success than “The Happy Warrior” and ranks as one of the best strip biographies of all time. [Norman Wright & David Ashford, (2002)."Frank Bellamy" (Great British Comic Artists No. 5) Book And Magazine Collector No 222]
Eagle 7 July 1962 Vol.13:27 p08-09 The last of the 18 episodes

* The picture of the cover for the new Eagle appeared a week before on the inside cover of the Eagle